A ginormous thank you to the Operation Awesome team for having me here today. Just so you know a little about me, I’ve been writing fiction for six years and recently debuted last November, and have a sequel due out next month. I wanted to take this opportunity to share a little about creating believable settings through research, and how to make your scenes POP!
My last two novels have relied heavily on research. Both of them being YA/NA time travel stories, my main characters travel back to actual historical events. It wasn’t like I could fudge the settings there. These events have been filmed, documented, and are widely known across the globe. Accuracy was vital to making these scenes pop.
Whether you use real life settings or create your own, our job as the author is to make the reader believe these places are real. We can do this through sensory techniques.
· How does it look?
· How does it sound?
· How does it smell?
· What does it feel like?
All are important questions to answer in each new setting. Mind you, overkill in any of these areas will have the opposite effect. So go with the general rule of “less is more.”
Okay, so right about now you’re saying, “Yeah, yeah I know this already.”
But the trick is not remembering to use these senses, it’s in describing them. And how do you describe somewhere you’ve never been?
Most of us have overactive imaginations, which is why we’re writers, but when it comes to writing real places, we need a bit of research as well.
|Photo Credit: Fanpop|
In my novel, Butterman (Time) Travel, Inc., I had to recreate the original Woodstock from 1969. I’m not old enough to have been there, and I didn’t know anyone who’d been there either, but I wanted to write my scenes like I had been there. I watched the Woodstock film documentary with a notepad and pen in hand, and opened my mind. (no drugs required btw ;))
I jotted down anything and everything that stood out to me. From clothes to hair to nature. Then I got more specific: heaviness of eyes, color of skin, pitch of voice. Any little detail. Mainly, the unique way I perceived and responded to these details, and I jotted all of it down.
I also described what I felt and saw while the artists performed. I experienced it like I was there and tapped into that writerly toolbox of creative expressions to give my descriptions an artistic flair—one only I can give because it’s unique only to me. Same as your perceptions are unique only to you. When I was finished with the film, I had a list of amazing images, similes, metaphors, etc.
Remember, the key is to jot these ideas like no one is watching or will ever read them, and that will help open your mind and creative side to be free, as well as chase off that pesky left-side of your brain that wants order and logic. That comes later, and left-side will get its chance when you’re structuring your novel and editing for grammar.
When it came time to write the actual Woodstock scenes, I had my notes handy and could feather in these unique details in order to bring the scenes to life. In turn, readers really connected with this part of the book. They experienced it too, and what a great feeling it is to know they felt what I felt. I still get more compliments on the Woodstock scenes than anything else.
|Photo Credit: Titanic Recounts|
In the sequel, Induction Day, I did the same with the Titanic scenes. For days I watched nothing but documentaries on Titanic, and of course, the actual James Cameron movie. I had my notepad handy and I noted everything I could that stood out to me, down to the embellishment on a hat, or jewel on a brooch, or brass gadgets on the ship’s bridge.
What brings a setting to life is not the general description, it’s the tiny details sprinkled throughout the scenes that stirs an image. Spoonfeeding the reader a laundry list of how something looks is just plain boring to read, and it separates the amateur novelist from the experienced one. If we bog down our scenes with too many details it becomes laborious reading, but just the right amount here and there is an artistic technique that conjures an image easily in the reader’s head, and they begin to notice things as if they ARE the main character.
Likewise, when an author has taken their setting for granted in the story it always shows. It feels generic and stiff. But when they take the time to flesh out a small detail now and then, using the “less is more mentality,” it makes all the difference.
You may not be writing about historical events or places, but every writer needs to experience their setting in a unique way that will allow them to bring it to life on the page. I’ve written fantasy worlds as well, so I know there are some imaginative places we just can’t see or get to, but we can experience them by closing our eyes and letting the world unfold before our mind’s eye, then jotting details down on paper in that artistic, writerly way that makes us an author. Or, spend the day watching fantasy films with a notebook and jot down little worldbuilding details that perk your senses. These can be tweaked later to your own style so they’re unique to your story.
I hope you’ve found some of this helpful. I’d love to know your own tricks and tips for making settings pop. Please share in the comments, and thanks so much for stopping by! Thanks again to Operation Awesome for having me here today. It’s been a pleasure!
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PK Hrezo is the author of the sassy sci-fi romance series, Butterman Travel, Inc. as well as a self-proclaimed chocoholic, guacoholic, and rockoholic. You can find her and her books on her website at http://down-the-rabbithole.com